September 29, 2014 – In the spring of his senior year, Danny was on the high school baseball team that won the state championship. The next spring, he was a member of the 101st Airborne, on patrol with his squad in unfamiliar territory. And a few springs later, he was boarding a plane home, wondering what he would do now.
In many ways, leaving the military can be like leaving a marriage – you know it’s over, but you miss the relationship; you miss working together towards a common goal. You may try to reunite with your old team members. They have gone their separate ways, though. They are busy finishing school or starting a career or have a family.
Many times, soldiers will come home only to find it a difficult place to live. Some reenlist. Others turn to the bottle, reports US News and World Report. Some begin hopping from relationship to relationship, hoping to gain peace and fulfillment. Others seem to make the adjustment almost seamlessly, quickly becoming valuable members of the community. The path you take is up to you.
Here are three steps to improve life when you get back home:
1. Let your expectation be that things have changed. Life has gone on without you. That old girlfriend may be married. Your best friend may no longer share common interests. That hangout where your friends met isn’t the same. You aren’t going back to where you left. That place has changed, and so have you. Your reality is colored by your thoughts. When you expect something to be one way, but it is not like that at all, you experience mental anguish. Expect that things have changed.
2. Fight the tendency to feel all alone. Without your band of brothers walking with you, it can feel like you have been deserted, left to face the enemy on your own. This is a seriously vulnerable place to be. You may fall in with a group that seems accepting of you but may not add value to your life. Rather, they can drag you down to places you really don’t want to go. Many a returning veteran has ended up in trouble with the law, having hooked up with the wrong group at the wrong time.
3. Realize your need for others. To admit your need for others is not a weakness, it is a strength. The truth is that none of us can accomplish as much alone as we can together. None of us. This is a critical point: Given that you need others, your power is in choosing those others. You get what you settle for. Look for a group or groups with common ground. Certainly, membership in a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) group could be valuable. Replace those combat boots with motorcycle kicks and find a club to ride with. Hikers can find hiking clubs. Volunteer organizations are always in need of helpers, whether the Boy Scouts of America or the humane society. Most Churches offer groups for men, women, singles, couples, etc. The primary thing is to look to your own healthy interests and find ways to get with others who share them.
Don’t let your life be directed by happenstance. In the absence of a squad leader or company commander, it is up to you to take control. You fought for that freedom. You deserve that freedom. Your tenacity and talents are needed. You are needed.
After all, above it all, you are a human being. You are perfectly imperfect and everything you have done to date has served to make you wiser and more capable. You may not be in C Company now, but you are a member of the human race. Join in, pitch in, and help others. One adventure has ended, but another is underway.